Richard Webster, whose involvement with Writers in Oxford was both long and deep, died on 2 July. Members have paid these tributes to a highly respected and much-liked colleague.
Richard was a ‘lion’ in the committee – and not just physical stature. He was intelligent, sharp witted, reliable and full of common sense, a great asset to any committee especially because he was a straight-talker and said what needed to be said in a few short words. If he thought something was a bad idea, you knew it. But he was kind with it. You seldom saw Richard without a smile. A man of great integrity, he worked for years on subjects most writers wouldn’t dare touch.
Richard was among the first I met when I joined the Society: he was one of those who made me feel so welcome. My last – and vivid and happy – memory of him was at the AGM, when he had a good-natured go at me for not only suggesting something he thought the Society should not involve itself in but also continually referring to ‘WiO’. It was a wonderful blend of forthrightness and grace, absolutely typical of him. It made me laugh and resolve never to use such a dreadful abbreviation again. My resolve is now even stronger.
Richard was such a vital and vivid presence on the committee and at our meetings. The website would have been much less of presence, too, without him.
Richard was one of the two or three members of Writers in Oxford who I felt closest to, and whose advice I felt best able to call on. He had a formidable intellect, yet he wore his erudition lightly: the last time I saw him, he was thoroughly enjoying a performance of Giffords Circus!
Richard’s courage and generosity of spirit led him to fight some very difficult battles on behalf of others, but he always made light of the problems that this caused him personally – including the fact that he couldn’t find a publisher willing to take on his last completed book, ‘The Secret of Bryn Estyn’, for fear of legal action.
I was hugely impressed by his 1995 book ‘Why Freud was Wrong’, and I once asked him if he fully realised what an achievement it was. I didn’t really expect him to say ‘Yes’, but his reply made me feel that he knew he’d done something important. I hope so – even though it’s as a friend, rather than as a scholar, that I valued him most.
So sad to hear this news of Richard! He was such a warm and giving man, and I remember with admiration the immense amount of time he gave to the Writers in Oxford website, as well as the way he kept us all on our toes with his zeal for clarity of thinking.
I had expected to meet up with Richard last week as he’d bought a ticket to the show I was doing at Oxfringe. When he wasn’t there, I assumed, like so often happens, that he was once of those few people who buy tickets but can’t make it due to other, little circumstances.
I had hoped that the show might inspire him to think about a collaborative project between us on one topic of his expertise: Freud. It seemed that my training in psychology and his book were a perfect complement and would enable us to do some interesting lectures on the topic. Anyway, that’s obviously not to be.
At every Writers in Oxford meeting, one of us would make a beeline for the other, and I’d enjoy his analytical thinking, his sense of humour and his intellect. We spent quite a few hours over the last 5 years being irreverent and laughing heartily. He supported me and my books formally and informally and made me feel very welcome when I first joined WiO; at times I was even a little embarrassed by how enthusiastically he plugged my simple ‘bog books’ whilst there were others, including himself who had written much more worthy works!
I was looking forward to more laughter, discussions, intellectual challenge and to reading the book that he constantly had on the back burner – the book about disgust. I feel very sad that we won’t share a stage to talk about Freud together.
Like all members of Writers in Oxford, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Richard Webster last week. The loss of such an insightful and incisive mind to us, and to the wider community, is very great indeed.
I have just been reminding myself of the clarity of his thinking by re-reading his wonderful 2002 essay on Structuralism, which can be found on his website. In the penultimate paragraph he says:
‘…in the last three or four centuries, much of our emotional expression, and indeed our wealth, has been secreted in the relatively private imaginative world of literature’.
I think his dedication to the world of letters and books was based on the huge implications of this idea.
Richard was a tireless champion of those people who are victimised by modern media witch-hunts, especially victims of sociological/psychological cant. When my own family was irrationally attacked by our social services and public family courts, he freely gave a great deal of sympathy and advice. He was always cheerful, witty and self-deprecating and a chat with him at WiO events was a tonic I always looked forward to.
Richard was very kind to me from when I started with WiO to my days as chair. He was terrifically entertaining, although he could be pretty direct sometimes. But I valued this directness–he had definite views about a number of things, including, WiO and you always knew where you stood with him. He was clearly someone who was very interested in people.